Saturday, Feb. 23, 2013 | 8:35 p.m.
- Rebels’ Bennett exits game at Wyoming early with left shoulder injury
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LARAMIE, Wyo. — There were two things that made this UNLV road trip distinctly different from any other the team has taken this year in Mountain West play. The first? The Rebels chartered a flight both ways, coming straight into Laramie on their own schedule Friday and rushing out Saturday night to beat an incoming snowstorm.
The other thing is the Rebels (21-7, 8-5) boarded that return flight feeling really good about themselves, having just dispatched a weakened Wyoming squad (18-9, 4-9) 65-42 for the first blowout victory on the road in league play during the Dave Rice era.
“Usually we go (home) disappointed and just thinking,” said sophomore forward Khem Birch, who finished with 12 points and a career-high 14 rebounds. “Now we can be happy, listen to music and that’s it.”
There are only two concerns UNLV could have taken on that plane. The first is that Anthony Bennett, the team’s leading scorer and rebounder, watched the final 36 minutes from the bench because of a stiff left shoulder.
“He slept on it wrong,” said Rice, who found out about the injury Saturday morning during shootaround at Arena-Auditorium. Bennett and team trainer Dave Tomchek thought he could play, but after giving it a go they decided it was best for him to rest. And with a week before the Rebels play again, on the road Saturday at UNR, he’ll get plenty of that.
The other concern? The Rebels committed 18 turnovers, the most since Jan. 5.
“We’re playing against a team that doesn’t press; we cannot have 18 turnovers,” Rice said. “But none the less we dominated them on the boards and that’s a big deal for us.”
Yes, UNLV did dominate the boards (47-25) and pretty much everything else, too. The Rebels shot 50 percent from the field compared to the Cowboys’ 28.8, they blocked three shots to the home team’s none and completely controlled the paint to gain a 36-18 scoring advantage down there.
“We went into a buzz saw tonight,” said Wyoming coach Larry Shyatt, who got into a verbal altercation late in the game with a Cowboys fan who was eventually tossed out of the game.
Wyoming junior forward Derek Cooke scored a career-high 15 points but the other four starters combined to shoot 4-for-32 (12.5 percent).
About 30 minutes before the game started, Wyoming’s Leonard Washington emerged from the team’s side tunnel on the opposite side of the benches wearing warm-ups. The team’s leading rebounder and second-leading scorer, Washington had to watch his second straight game from the bench because of an ankle injury. And without him clogging up the middle, the Rebels did pretty much whatever they wanted.
“We were just feeling it this game,” Birch said. “We wanted to get it inside; we knew they were kind of weak (without Washington) and we just attacked them.”
The Rebels shot three 3-pointers in the first four minutes, including one from Bennett, and then just six the rest of the way for a season-low nine attempts. It was clear the Cowboys’ defense couldn’t handle Birch, Mike Moser (5-for-10) or Savon Goodman (2-for-3) inside, and Rice said the perimeter defense created a lot of opportunities for the guards to penetrate.
UNLV cruised to a 20-point halftime lead and Wyoming never got closer than 17 in the second half. Bryce Dejean-Jones and Moser each scored 11, Katin Reinhardt poured in 10 points and Goodman finished with eight, a new personal best in league play.
Admitting his team “caught a bit of a break” by getting Wyoming without Washington, Rice noted that going without Bennett was an easier transition because Moser was able to step into the power forward spot without any issues.
“Fortunately Mike is continuing to get better and more healthy,” Rice said.
Moser grabbed seven rebounds, though he did also record a team-high four turnovers. Four other guys committed at least two turnovers, including Goodman with three.
Despite knowing Wyoming would have to play without its best player, Birch said the team’s recent history on the road made them too cautious to be overly confident. UNLV came into the game 1-5 this year on the road in league play and losers of the last four.
“You know our past with road games so I thought it was going to be a close one,” he said.
It wasn’t, and that’s a very good thing for UNLV, which has lost before as the clearly superior team (see: State, Fresno). For most of the game you could hear individual conversations in the crowd, which was listed at 7,097 but sounded like less than half that. The Rebels deserve credit for making the game boring for the home crowd and putting together arguably their most businesslike trip of the season.
Momentum would appear to be on their side, especially with Colorado State’s loss earlier Saturday, although the Rebels now take their three-game winning streak into a week off. UNLV is a half-game back of the second-place Rams, who host Fresno State on Wednesday.
“It probably is best not to have a week off, but at the same time maybe it will give Anthony Bennett a little more time to heal his shoulder,” Rice said. “… We were a little bit of a tired basketball team right now but there’s no time to be tired.”
Birch agreed with Rice’s assessment, saying he was “exhausted” the past week. Between Bennett’s shoulder and the general fatigue that comes this time of year, maybe the break will benefit the Rebels. Or maybe it will throw off the positive energy they’ve created with these past three victories.
That’s really up to the Rebels, who have a week to prepare for a trip they hope ends with another flight filled with nothing but the music in their headphones.